on June 28, 2001
"Reaper Man" has all the elements of a good Discworld book. Old friends -- Death, The Librarian -- show up and reap (pun intended) havoc. A gaggle of befuddled wizards leave the sanctuary of Unseen University to try and solve a mystical dilemma. And a sheltered innocent, an old wizard named Windle Poons, learns a little something about himself. All fine and good. The problem, and thankfully it is a rare occurrence in Pratchett's world, is that these elements don't interact enough to create a cohesive whole. Pity.
Death gets top billing here, and he is fleshed-out wonderfully (a tough task considering he had no flesh to begin with). A supernatural career crisis leads him to a job harvesting crops, where his skill with a scythe is put to good use. A budding relationship with his new employer, Miss Flitworth, teaches him to actually live.
Windle Poons undergoes a crisis of his own. He's died. Well, almost. See, Death is not around to collect him. So what happens? Well, Terry heaps confusing circumstances on poor Mr. Poons. Poons reacts in much of the same way that Death did. He learns to live, too. After 130-years of sheltered existence, not to mention the last 50 years living with a decrepit body, he is liberated by Death. Only Terry could come up with such a wacky but logically sound notion.
The rest of the cast of characters, including the Wizards and a rag-tag group of misfits called the Fresh Start Club, lively wander around the plot, narrowly bumping into each other while providing fine comic moments. The Wizards get a little too caught up in their quest, eventually donning cloth headbands and yelling "Yo!" as if going into Rambo-style warfare. Couple this with their sheltered pomposity, and we get truly funny moments. The Fresh Start Club is quite the inspired creation on Terry's part. Their group is made up of the failed undead, including a bogeyman who's scared of people, a wolf who turns into a man during a full moon, and a shy banshee who, instead of wailing, slips a card under your door that reads: "OOoooEeeeOooEeeeOOOeee". I would have liked to spend more time with this motley crew.
And Terry's concept of what happens when Death is not around (to collect humanity's deceased life force) is a true revelation. It confused me at first, but upon further reflection, I realized that not only has he conjured up a truly poetic invention, but has made a sly comment on the reign of terror consumerism has inflicted on our culture. I'll say no more; just be prepared to sing for your supper because Terry's not about to hold your hand (with explicit explanation) through these sections.
So the elements are all there. But they never interact in any meaningful way. Terry usually manages to tie the varying narrative threads together by the end. The end here is satisfying in its own way (Death's final scenes are poetic and beautiful), but doesn't carry its weight in terms of helping unify the book's structure. It made me think that there were really two or three distinct stories here, slapped together without much afterthought, to create one full-sized book. That was really my only problem. The rest of the book is enchanting and wonderful; a lesser entry in the Discworld series, but fine reading nonetheless.
on February 13, 2006
After seeing all the 5 star reviews, it made me think that I had read a different book, but perhaps I just didnt "get" this one as much as all of the other reviewers. It is a great book, hence the 4 star review, but I would never compare it to my favourites in the series (Men At Arms, Guards! Guards!). Lots of great ideas and classic Pratchett jokes abound in this one, though I found that I enjoyed Mort more than this one. Im not saying it was bad, far far from it, I just think that it was slightly under-par for Pratchett. Great book, but I would not consider it a good book to start off with. If you are interested in reading the "death" series of books, start off with Mort, and then read this one second.